Leicester Square Comedian Of The Year

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Fifteen new comedians can be a daunting prospect, but the final of the second Leicester Square Comedian Of The Year offered a strong line-up, having had almost 50 heats to eliminate any weakness.

Eventual winner Tim Shishodia can be proud of triumphing over such tough competition, gaining lots of hearty laughs from his sneaky wordplay. His quirky, fragmented delivery is worryingly close to Harry Hill’s, but the strength of writing was more than enough to overcome such obvious homage. He has mastered the knack of pushing ideas into brilliant absurdity; with surreal set-ups that are in an instance explained by fine punchlines, while elsewhere he makes hay with deliberately cheesy puns or over-extended ideas; such as his old woman analogy, taken to hilarious ridiculous extremes. That derivative persona is a worry, but this chap sure is funny, and well deserving of the title and the £1,000 that comes with it.

His triumphant set opened the third section, but there was plenty to enjoy before we got there, plus an interesting approach to compering from Scott Capurro. Not for him the jolly MC getting the audience warmed as one, but a typically provocative, divisive set of extreme material on race and sexuality. It certainly gave proceedings a different edge.

Andrew Doyle drew the short straw of opening the night. He has charm, confidence and poise, and more than his share of strong material, most notably a cheeky routine about Cheryl Cole being Britain’s most successful racist. A couple of his more subtle lines flew under the audience radar, but it didn’t dent his winning ‘nice-guy’ composure. Sadly nice guys never finish first, and though this was an effortlessly enjoyable five minutes, it just didn’t stand out in the final reckoning.

Sharp-suited Tez Ilyas was a real crowd-pleaser… and not just because he had a lot of supporters in the room. Something of an Asian Rowan Atkinson lookalike, he as only been performing stand-up for six months, though he has the natural presence of a much more experienced act. Some of his writing could be more distinctive – just mentioning Muslims and planes in the same sentence isn’t enough for a joke – but he subverts the ‘my mum speaks funny’ school of ethnic comedy, drops in a couple of daring topical references and indulges in a playful bit of below-the-belt wordplay, all to his credit. If he’s this strong after a few months, he should be a real prospect before too long.

American Robert Commiskey got off to a peculiarly slow, and rather hack, start about the differences between cats and dogs, adding nothing to the idea that the former are fickle, the latter loyal. But after a tongue-in-cheek link he moved on to a much more original section about facing job interviews with honesty, exposing a few home truths. A solid performer, who’s been around a couple of years, but needing more consistent material.

Mark Stephenson demonstrates his compelling attitude from the moment he said ‘hiya’ with an air of bored distraction, His comedy comes from misery – so often the best place – as he complains abut being bored, lonely and unemployed. His set demonstrated the value of such a well-defined comic voice, for although the material was variable, you always want to hear more of his suburban lower-class gripes. He secured the £500 silver medal on the night – let’s hope it doesn’t make him too happy.

Simon Hewitt bounded on like a confident Essex boy, prowling the stage like an arrogant cross between Alan Carr and Russell Brand. That assuredness took something of a knock as his rather pedestrian material received a more muted result than it seemed he was expecting, but he regrouped and pushed on through. The truth is lines like ‘I hate it when you’re watching TV and a sex scene comes on… when it’s a home video!’ are fairly easy stuff. Yet some of his material showed potential: he had a nice line about killer Derrick Bird, if over-extended, and mentions of his marriage turning to dust after just three months are intriguing. However he failed to exploit that angle, or even fully convince us of the veracity of it. Oomph and good intentions have got him so far, now he need to dig a little deeper for the real comic yield.

In contrast to Hewitt’s energy, Kwame Asante was calm and collected, almost too withdrawn. His set took a while to get going – a luxury a comic can ill afford in five minutes – but once he’d got past gags about being dumped and premature ejaculation, and moved onto what he impishly called the ‘black jokes portion of my act’ he cocked a snook at some old stereotypes to fine effect. That certainly showed him to be a decent act who could flourish in time.

Next up was Don Biswas, a dyspraxic, slightly autistic act with a repertoire of one-liners linked by nothing more slick than ‘Here’s another joke, guys.’ With few performance skills, he relies entirely on his writing, which is decidedly hit and miss. There are a few stand-outs, but you need a lot more charisma to get away with lines such as ‘I’m a Hindu, I don’t have a beef with anyone’ than Biswas can muster.

Ian Smith has both presence and material… and now an extra £250 in his bank account after coming third in this competition. A Stewart Lee influence is visible, but not overwhelming; although he should probably have saved the deconstruction until after his first, genuinely funny, gag, which he rather sabotaged for himself. But his Michael Barrymore material is witty and unexpected – as was his beautifully disapproving response to the punter who got carried away with the idea. He’s been doing new act competitions for a couple of years now, and usually seems to get placed, demonstrating a consistency in his appealing material.

Jason Patterson was, unfortunately, a lot more predictable with his punchlines. He has a strong delivery and easy stage presence, but an over-reliance on tricks such as the ‘pull back to reveal’ that frequent comedy-goers will see coming after protracted set-ups. A quirky aside about witnessing a mugging raises the bar higher than the bulk of his set, about oddballs in his family, but he still doesn’t particularly stand out.

Henry Ginsberg, who was last week in the televised final of the FHM Stand-Up Hero competition, cuts a more unusual figure, and successfully mines his outsider status for a delightfully offbeat set, hinting at emotional bleakness -– but in a fun way. Even such nouveau hack subjects as rape and paedophilia are approached from a fresh angle, niftily playing on his inner demons rather than going for straightforward shock value. More please.

Scotsman Michael Mooney also seems to have a troubled mind… which unfortunately manifests itself in a jumbled, sometimes impenetrable set. ‘You’re too mental,’ an ex once told him, and you’ll think she had a point. The few jokes that were identifiable were often contrived, and not in a good way. There’s no clarity of persona, delivery or writing here.

Deadpan Daniel Smith has clearly been watching too many Stewart Lee DVDs, too, as he comprehensively deconstructed his set, starting with a wilfully obscure gag to gauge the audience. And this wasn’t an ‘historical philosophical concepts’ crowd tonight. He played with this erudition skilfully, with several perfectly phrased asides. Some of the awkwardness is still a bit too genuine, but he’s an interesting prospect.

After the bootleg Stewart Lee, and Shishodia’s Harry Hill act, came the tribute Dave Gorman. Chris Turner has a similarly intelligent approach to what’s quite often childish wordplay – but that’s not a bad trait to have. And although some of his one-liners were predictable, others still demonstrated a useful and tricksy wit. His timely gag about keeping the Christ in Christmas was especially clever, and he has a mischievous sparkle to his delivery, especially in his trick of grabbing the microphone stand to telegraph a forthcoming pun.

Last, and in many ways least, Max Dowler, who does impressions. He’s technically strong – his Michael McIntyre is uncanny – but he does nothing of interest with that talent in a decidedly old-school set: What if Alan Sugar was in the A-Team, what if Barack Obama read the football results, what if Christopher Walken… oh you get the picture. The references might be updated, but this is comedy like it’s 1973. Ooh Betty.

Review date: 13 Dec 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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